Our guest is COO Alliance Member Erin Nelson, Vice President, Operations and Organizational Effectiveness at Kindred Bravely.
It’s seldom the problem that organizations have bad people; it’s almost always a case of having good people in the wrong roles. To help avoiding this potentially costly mistake, Southern California maternity and nursing clothing company, Kindred Bravely invests in determining the personality profiles of their hires to find out where they excel and place them into roles where they can have the highest chance of success. At the forefront of this crucial part of the company’s operations is Erin Nelson, its Vice President, Operations and Organizational Effectiveness. Joining Cameron Herold for this episode, Erin shares how the company does its hiring and onboarding and the communication and project management tools it uses to stay on top of the game in a remote working environment. Erin also shares her personal journey of adapting and growing within the company as part of the leadership team.
Erin Nelson is the Vice President, Operations and Organizational Effectiveness (formerly the Director of Organizational Effectiveness) at Kindred Bravely, a maternity and nursing company based in Southern California. In 2019, Kindred Bravely ranked number twenty on Inc’s list of America’s fastest-growing private companies with three-year revenue growth of 8,544%. The company was also named number four top California companies, number one top San Diego company, and number five top consumer products and service companies. In 2017, Kindred Bravely won Shopify’s Pick in the Build a Bigger Business competition.
Erin has been focused on building systems and processes that support Kindred Bravely’s rapidly growing team, allowing them to communicate effectively and efficiently. At the same time, she’s done tangible ways to further the company’s vivid vision while fostering a positive and fun remote work culture. Erin loves working for Kindred Bravely because of its emphasis on women supporting other women. One way Kindred Bravely does this is by hiring an almost entirely remote workforce, many of whom are moms of young children.
With its flexible work environment, Kindred Bravely enables moms and dads to achieve professionally and personally. Erin holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. While she was completing her Public Policy degree, she also took business classes to expand her knowledge. She has professional experience in the public, non-profit, and private sectors and spends as much of her free time reading. Erin, welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s great to talk to you.
You as well. Erin is also a member of the COO Alliance. I’ve gotten to know her over the last couple of events that she’s been able to attend. Erin, thanks again for joining us. Why don’t you tell us how you got involved in Kindred Bravely? What was it that attracted you to the brand in the early stages for you?
I first heard about Kindred Bravely through a friend who was working at the company and she had transitioned from being a stay at home mom to entering the workforce part-time. When she started describing the company to me, I was fascinated by the business model. It’s a remote team focused on serving moms and the understanding of work-life balance was the thing that appealed to me the most. I started following the company on social media.
I saw a job pop up for a customer service position. It wasn’t a job that I personally wanted to do, but I was interested in the company and the mission that I decided to apply on a whim. I was at home with a little baby of myself at the time and I thought, “This could be the perfect way back into the workforce after taking some time off to be with my little ones.” I applied and I thought, “Maybe they’ll look at my resume and think of me for something else. What’s the harm in applying?” I applied. I got an interview. They did exactly what I hoped they would, which was they looked at my resume and said, “We don’t want you for that job. We would love to have you for a different job.” They brought me on into a position they weren’t even advertising, part-time Process Improvement Coordinator.
I started with the company, twenty hours a week, getting back into working. From there, my job has evolved as the company has grown. I started as the Process Improvement Coordinator and then I went to Senior Project Manager and then Vice President, Operations and Organizational Effectiveness. The founders love using people in the roles where they excel. The organizational structure and building systems, processes, troubleshooting, and puzzle-solving are what I like doing. I feel thankful that I’ve been able to grow with the company and keep doing more of the things that I like to do.
As a company, how do you find out what people are good at and what they excel at? How do you systemize that to then start putting people into their unique ability roles?
We use a lot of tools when we are interested in hiring someone. We have a rigorous interview process. In addition to the interview process, we utilize a lot of tools once we decide someone is the right fit. We use the Kolbe Assessment and DISC assessment. We do StrengthsFinder. Those are the main ones that we use. Once we know someone is joining the team, we dive into the personality assessments on how they work, how they operate. We use those tools heavily. We share the Kolbe and the DISC with the whole team. Everybody on our team knows the Kolbe number of their supervisor and the people that they work with. We try to use those tools to foster good communication between supervisors and employees and with each other. We use a lot of different tools like that so we can understand how each person’s operating mode is and it’s helpful.
The entire purpose of having a personality profile is never to change the other person, but it’s merely to understand the other person and to understand yourself so that you understand your unique abilities, you understand your weaknesses, you understand your strengths, understand how you’re showing up and how you’re being perceived. It’s understanding each other that builds that highly functioning team. It’s good that you guys are doing it for that purpose. The Kolbe profile that you’re talking about is the Kolbe A profile, probably. We use that even in the COO Alliance. We have all of our COO members do the Kolbe A profile and then we have their CEO do it so there’s a good understanding. For fun, what is your Kolbe A profile?
It’s 8367. When I first started and I was directly reporting to Garret, our founder, when I went line by line on the way I operate and the way he operates, it’s enlightening because he’s a quick start and I like to research a lot. He likes to hear a lot of the main point. I love the details. It’s helpful when you understand not only who you report to, but the people that report up to you as well. How do they operate? How do they want to receive communication? How do they like to give communication? It clarifies many things and it can save you much time. Before I dove in deep, I like receiving a lot of details. I would spend a lot of time on the detailed briefing. Only to find out one sentence, two sentences are fine, get to the point. Insights like that are helpful. It improves your working relationships in many different ways.
How about for yourself, where have you grown? What have you learned about yourself from doing some of these profiles that have helped you?
I have a long fact finder. Sometimes I go deeper than necessary into researching, almost to the point of delaying things, which is not helpful. That’s been valuable for me to realize. Similarly, I’m not a quick start. I need to have a lot of information before I start. We’ve talked about this in the COO Alliance, a lot of entrepreneurs are quick starts. They have an idea and they want it to go immediately. It’s helpful for the entrepreneurs to have somebody like me next to them to help that certain thing before we go too hard on any given area.
Walk me through that. Let’s say you’re hiring for a key role in the organization, how do you use the personality profiles to assist you in hiring and then to assist you in onboarding these people?
With hiring, obviously, the person doing the hiring, you want them to read through the profile. We go through a lot of vetting before we get to the point of doing all the profiles. Once we get to the point of doing the profile, you’re sure that you know who the right person is. The profiles are used as getting oriented to the person and seeing how they operate.
You’re not using them as part of your hiring. You’re using them as part of the onboarding and integration of those people.
I don’t want anyone to think that we make a hiring decision exclusively based on profile, because that’s definitely not the case. Once we’re pretty sure that we have the right person, we do use it heavily with the onboarding. We make sure that the supervisor reads it. They read their supervisors. I always encourage everybody to familiarize ourselves with everyone in their departments or anyone that they work with regularly. We have used some of the other strategic coach tools like the Communication Builder and different tools like that as part of the onboarding to make sure that people understand giving and receiving information.
Kolbe has a service where you can plug in your whole team and it creates a grade for you. You can see how many people fall in each area and if there are any people you don’t have. One of the ones that we realized, we had only one person on the team who was a high implementer and that is our warehouse manager. He loves to build things. He pretty much built the whole warehouse. We thought it was awesome to see that reinforcement of, “We got it right. He’s in the right role.” It was also a useful exercise to see, “Do we have a lot of the same profile?”
“We’re hiring a lot of people like us.”
That’s another thing that was useful to see. We want a mix. We don’t want everyone to have the same skillset. We want the whole spectrum of skills. We definitely use a tool for that. In terms of onboarding, we have a great onboarding program that I have spent a ton of time building and I’m proud of it. This is part of that.
I wanted to ask you about the onboarding. You have a fully remote team. I’m curious about what your onboarding of your team looks like and how it works. Can you start walking us through that?
We use Asana as our project management tool within the company. We started using Asana for our onboarding. Asana is one tool. The other tool we rely heavily on is called GetGuru. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s a knowledge management tool. We have an Asana board project that we create for the person before they start. Day one, you join Kindred Bravely, you log into Slack, which is what we use to communicate.
Everything is all set up for you and your first Asana project exists. You will be in a meeting with someone, our HR associate, sometimes it’s me, and we will orient you to that Asana project. It says, “First column, day one, what do you need to do on your first day?” Set up this, take a sexual harassment prevention training, set up your calendar, and the day one stuff and the person gets an overview from a live person via Zoom call. We walk them through how to use the project and then let them go on the first day to do the first round of things. Throughout their first week, we continue the meetings and moving them along.
The next column on the project is your first week. Now that you’ve got your email, your calendar, everything set up, you’ve taken the mandatory training, you’re going to start meeting with people and other departments. We have 36 US employees. We have a few departments. We get the person oriented with who’s who within the company in the smaller setting. When you are in a physical office, it’s hard enough remembering everyone’s names when you start somewhere new. In a remote office, it can be much harder because there’s not even a face to the name sometimes. Some people on our team, we have multiples of the same name. We try to get people integrated into the smaller departmental meetings during their first week so that they can meet everyone on a smaller scale. We introduce them to our whole team. We have an all-team meeting every Friday. Throughout the week, they’re being guided, but they’re also given the ability to self-guide. The second part of that is GetGuru, that’s a knowledge management tool.
Walk us through this one and dumb this one down, because I opened it up quickly when you mentioned it, I scanned it quickly. Walk this down for our readers.
The way we use GetGuru is where we standardize all of our work processes. The idea being anything that you’re doing on a regular basis, we want it to be standardized into a how-to guide. It’s not quite as formal as an SOP. We want step by step screenshots, instructions. Let’s say you’re out or somebody leaves the team, we want as much knowledge as we can have institutionalized. What the Asana project has in the description of the task is for each of these steps there’s a link to the GetGuru card. When it says, “Take your sexual harassment prevention training,” you click on the link and the screen pops up and it says, “Here’s the website. Here’s how you log in. This is how long it takes. This is how you troubleshoot if you’re having problems. This is what you do when you’re done.”
We’re tying the instructions for each step to our knowledge management system. Part of the reason I set it up that way is because I want to train people from the beginning on where to look for help. If at all possible, look here first before reaching out to someone else. I want to point people straight to the source of information and free up a lot of team members from repeating the same information all the time verbally or typing it out in Slack.
Would it be the way where you document your processes? Is it more like a Wiki or an online training program? What is it displacing? What is it taking the place of?
It’s an app. It integrates with Slack. It’s taking the place of having a lot of Word documents explaining processes or having formal SOPs.
It explains how to do stuff, but it’s not necessarily the SOP documented in a way.
One of the things we tell our team members when they first start is, we use G-Suite, “Set up your calendar in a way that anyone on the team can look at it and know when you’re free and when you’re not.” If you have time that’s off-limits, block it off. If you are always going to be picking up your kids at school at this time, block it. We want to know when we can meet with you without having a lot of back and forth. There is a card that explains how to do that step by step.
There are more complicated functions that we do as well with eCommerce related. How do we do product launches? How do we do photoshoots? That stuff is in there too. Mainly, as we grow, we want to make sure that we’re documenting our processes and we’re making sure that we don’t lose information if there’s turnover or if things change. We want to make sure that the information stays with the company. It’s an awesome tool. Everyone who started at Kindred Bravely has told me that it was the best onboarding experience they’ve ever had, which is a huge compliment.
What have you had to do differently in your onboarding process over the last couple of years? What have you had to change or get better at?
Originally, I was personally onboarding everyone and I liked that. As we’ve grown, it’s hasn’t been possible. We’ve hired an HR associate who has taken over the onboarding. One of the things during our first week of onboarding is the founders and the president will meet with the team member and read the whole vivid vision for them and present it. A big part of it is making sure that right from the beginning everyone is on the same page regarding the vivid vision. There’s been a lot of times where we’ve hired in batches. We’ve hired 5, 6, 7 people once and done the bulk onboarding as a group. We’ve also had hired one person here and there.
What have you had to change to make the bulk onboarding work or be okay? What have you had to do differently?
Building the Asana project was a response to the bulk onboarding, because when you start realizing there are seven people that started on the same day, everyone has the same questions. It used to be more of a meeting focus and then we changed it to more of an onboarding project versus onboarding meetings because we wanted to let people go at their own pace if they were able to. Because I haven’t had time to cover everything you should do on your first week, if you’re up for it, you can self-guide your way through it. We’ve tried to have a balance between a lot of personal interaction. Also, if you want to go ahead and get in there, you can. We want to give it to you all upfront and then help you if you need help. If you don’t need help, you can go through the whole thing as fast as you want.
I love that you set it up that way. I want to go back to the Kolbe profile. Garret, who is one of the cofounders, what was his Kolbe profile? Do you know?
There are a few where we’re on different ends of the spectrum. One of the founders, he’s 7482. It goes, fact finder, follow thru, quick start, implementor. Mine is 8724.
That makes more sense. You ask a lot of questions and put systems in place. He likes to ask a bunch of questions and start quickly. He likes to start quickly and ask some questions while he’s running. You brought in another senior person into the organization as president of the organization. Did they have a different personality profile than Garret did? How did you adapt to that style?
She is 7553. It’s not too different. There are some similarities there and there are a little bit of differences as well. I’m in the middle of the two of us.
you ever do anything with Garret as a founder that you’ve had to switch your style with working with her? How have you had to adapt, grow and learn there?
I definitely had to adapt. With our new president, she has more interest in the details, which I love to share about. It works out well for me. We have our meetings sanctioned a little bit differently than it did when I was working directly with the founders. There’s a lot more information sharing back and forth than I did previously, and a lot more context and details being provided. I would say those are the main differences so far.
How about on the work from home? You mentioned some of the work from home tools. You guys have always been a remote company. Give us or give people that are having to work from home or work remotely that you found to be powerful or useful?
A lot of people are already figuring out Slack. Slack and Zoom are great tools to use. We’ve always been a video on in all of our meetings from day one. That helps teams, especially if you’re never in the same room together to understand what people’s personalities are like, what their facial expressions are like, all of that. We’re intentional with our communication guidelines on a related note. With Slack, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship that you’re starting out with, contacts at home can be hard to interpret.
We’ve been intentional with our communication guidelines. We have spelled that out for our team members. This is also part of the onboarding. What do we use Slack for? What do we use email for? What do we use Hangouts for? What kind of messages do we never want to convey in Slack? For example, in critical feedback, you need to have a face-to-face hang out with the person and talk to them so that they can understand your tone and context of that. We never want to be delivering criticism to someone over Slack, especially not in a public channel where other people can see it. We’ve been intentional with how we use our tools to communicate different pieces of information.
We also emphasize at the beginning of our onboarding what our core values are, which is grateful, generous, encouraging, and brave. We expect our team members to follow that in written messages, verbal messages, and email. We see it. Our Slack channels are filled with encouragement, support, all kinds of great things. For people that are new to working remotely, I would definitely say make sure that your team understands what channels are appropriate for what types of messages. The other thing that comes with Slack is it incentivizes people to reply quickly and maybe not thinking as deeply as you might if you’re responding to an email.
The reality with our team is that sometimes people aren’t on at that time. If you’re working late and someone else has already logged off for the day and the thread begins where the relevant people aren’t there, we do tell our team and we do follow this, “Let’s pause this so all the right people can be involved.” You could wake up and find out a message that has been spiraling all night and you should have been in on it. We do try to be mindful of that and say, “Make sure that the right people are involved in the discussion.” We follow meeting set principles from your book. I read that when I first started. Make sure that the right people are involved in the discussion. Otherwise, they’re wasting everyone’s time if you can’t have the right people at the table at the right time.
I love that you’re teaching people how to use the tools and also how to be intentional with them and then also reinforcing the core values along the way as well. There’s a lot there that you brought to the table. There are a lot of good insights there. It’s interesting to also see how intentional you guys are as a company that’s remote and an eCommerce company and how you’re running it like a best-of-breed offline world company would have to run. Is there anything you guys are struggling with as an organization?
We’ve grown a lot over the last few years. The ongoing struggle that’s at the forefront of my mind is wanting to perpetually maintain the culture and environment that we have as we grow. I wouldn’t say that it’s not happening but it’s something that I keep thinking about with rapid growth. We want to make sure that we provide the same cultural environment that we have with every new team member that gets bigger. The other thing would be what everyone’s struggling with in the time of the Coronavirus, which is there’s a lot of unknowns. We make plans and we think they’re a good plan and then sometimes things come out of the left field and you have to adjust. One thing that we are being mindful of is how can we be responsible for the business and still adapt to what’s happening around us.
Talk about the work-life balance thing. That was something you brought up earlier on that is an interesting part of your core values, your culture, your organization. As you are obsessed with the work-life balance, how do you instill that in people? How do you promote that? How do you check people that maybe aren’t as balanced as they should be? The workaholics, how do we bring them back into having some balance?
One of our core values is generosity. I mentioned this to you when we were at the COO Alliance, we do random acts of generosity as a company. Every month, each person has a budget to do a random act of generosity. Honestly, one of my favorite parts about working for Kindred Bravely is I look forward to doing a random act each month. I think about it all the time. I usually do it on the first day. I spend the rest of the month thinking about my next one. We share those in our team meetings on Friday.
In our last meeting of the month, everybody reports out what they did for their random act for the previous month. All I can speak is my own personal experience, but it has made me a more generous person. When I realized that I used my company random acts already, my brain has switched into looking for those opportunities, and then I’ll do more anyway because I want to. It feels good to be generous to other people. That’s one thing that I think helps all of us have that core value because we’re all actively participating every month.
The other thing is a lot of the people who work at Kindred Bravely are also our customers. Many of us are moms and we know what it’s like to have a newborn. We know what it’s like to buy something online. Life gets in the way of returning it on time. You have to figure out what the policy is. A lot of the way that we are outward focused towards our customers is the same way we treat each other internally. We try to provide an eleven-star customer experience, which is so far beyond what you see from a lot of eCommerce companies. We understand what it’s like to be a nursing mom who bought a nursing bra who realized that it doesn’t fit and then your kids spilled something on it. What do you do? We built our policies around the reality of our customers. Since we’ve all been through that phase and some of us are still in that phase, it translates outside of our company and internally. We have a lot of understanding and grace for each other because we understand what it’s like.
I love the theme around that and the focus around that. I want two specific examples though, one specific example of random acts of generosity. Give me an example of when that’s happened in the company so people can wrap their heads around it.
We did our first ever in-person team retreat. Normally, we let everyone have a certain budget to do an individual random act throughout the year. Since we were all together in-person, we divided into groups of four and gave everyone $200 and said, “You have an hour to go do a random act of generosity.” Some people went to Walmart and made backpacks and then they found homeless people that they could give them to.
My group, we went to a grocery store and we bought $200 grocery gift cards. We had the idea of walking around the grocery store to find a mom with little kids who we could help. We walked around and we didn’t see anyone. There were no moms at that time of day. Looking back, it was dinner time. We ended up going into the parking lot and hanging around until we saw someone. We saw this older woman, probably late 60s, and we said, “Let’s go give it to her.” We walked up to her and said, “We wanted to give you this gift card to help you with your groceries today and wishing you a good day.” The woman froze and she couldn’t believe it. She said, “No one has ever done anything like this for me before.”
She shared with us that she had lost her daughter in a murder. Ever since her daughter had passed away, she had been personally doing random acts in the community as a way of remembering her daughter. She said that we were the first time she had ever had anyone do a random act of generosity to her. All of us were crying in the parking lot. The four people in my group and the woman, we were all standing there and we ended up hugging and parting ways after that. The experience that comes from being generous is valuable. That experience helped our team feel even closer. There are things like that every month that we’re sharing.
I remember you telling me that story at the COO Alliance event, too. It was a powerful lesson. How about the eleven-star customer experience? Give me an example of when you guys have provided an eleven-star customer experience.
We have customers write in all the time. We have a flexible return policy. One customer wrote in and she told us, “My dog destroyed my pumping bra.” She sent us a picture of this pumping bra that had been destroyed by her dog. We thought it was hilarious. The customer service team is empowered. They sent her a new one and said, “Don’t worry about it. Have a new one. It’s on us. We understand.” We’ve had more specific things where people have written us after some of the natural disasters we’ve seen, like hurricane Harvey and fires. People will write in to us and say, “I lost everything I own. I have a new baby. I had bought all these things.” Our customer service team has a lot of liberty to do what they want. We frequently send people a care package from us.
Sometimes people write in and let us know that they were pregnant and they’ve had a miscarriage or they no longer need the item. We have a special piece of jewelry that we send in those cases, more of an emotional support because we know how hard that is. We do treat our customers as fast as we possibly can and that’s part of why our brand has been successful. We hear a lot from people that they’ve never had this positive of an experience with a company and now they want to tell their friends.
You’re taking that to the next level. I’m curious about the charity thing that you did with your organization. How many dollars did you give each group? How much time did you give them?
When we did it in person, we did $200 for groups of four. We had eight groups of four at that event.
How much time to go out and find the charitable thing and do it?
We allotted two hours. It was at the end of the day so some people finished earlier and some people took longer.
Two hours was enough time?
It’s a cool program. I like it. Final question. If we were to go back to the 22-year-old self, you’re finishing college, you’re heading out into the business world, what word of advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true now but you didn’t know when you were just getting going?
I would tell myself, “It’s okay to change courses and you can figure it out.” Studying Public Policy in grad school, I felt like I was committing myself to a life in government. I realized there’s a lot of things about that that I didn’t want to do forever. Entering a new field and then realizing you can learn anything you want to learn. There are many resources out in the world that you can grow and develop the skills that you want and not feel locked into one path because that’s the path that you started out on.
Erin Nelson, the Director of Operational Effectiveness at Kindred Bravely, thank you for sharing with us on the show.
I appreciate it.
About Erin Nelson
Kindred Bravely is a maternity and nursing clothing company based in Southern California. In 2019 Kindred Bravely ranked #20 on Inc.com’s List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies with three-year revenue growth of 8,544%. The company was also named #4 Top California companies, #1 Top San Diego companies, and #5 Top Consumer Products & Services companies. In 2017 Kindred Bravely won Shopify’s Pick in the Build a Bigger Business Competition.
Over the last three years, Erin has been focused on building systems and processes that support Kindred Bravely’s rapidly growing team, allowing them to communicate effectively and efficiently. At the same time, she has found tangible ways to further the company’s Vivid Vision while fostering a positive and fun remote work culture.
Erin loves working for Kindred Bravely because of its emphasis on women supporting other women. One way Kindred Bravely does this is by hiring an almost entirely remote workforce, many of whom are moms of young children. With its flexible work environment, Kindred Bravely enables moms (and dads) to achieve professionally and personally.
Erin holds a Masters in Public Policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. While she was completing her Public Policy degree, she also took business classes to expand her knowledge. She has professional experience in the public, non-profit, and private sectors and spends much of her free time reading.